18 Chicago Blackhawks A need for goals overrides the concerns about signing the volatile Theo Fleury

October 13, 2002

The Blackhawks don't care that Theo Fleury brings a lot of
baggage with him. They're willing to look past his stint in the
NHL's substance-abuse program and the fiery temper that often
leads to ill-advised penalties (and even a reported punch-out of
San Jose's mascot, Sharkie, near the dressing room last season),
because they need the 32 goals he's averaged in his 14-year NHL
career. "His problems don't bother me if I know he's going to
play his heart out every night," says coach Brian Sutter, who was
behind the bench in Calgary during Fleury's final two seasons
with the Flames, 1997-98 and '98-99.

Signed as a free agent after scoring 24 goals with the Rangers in
2001-02, Fleury will be counted on to add grit and gusto to an
offense that faded badly after the Olympics last February.
Chicago's record at the break was 33-18-9-0, second best in the
Western Conference, but the Blackhawks won only eight games the
rest of the way and fell meekly to the Blues in the first round
of the playoffs, scoring a total of five goals in five games.

With the loss of captain Tony Amonte (27 goals, 39 assists) to
free agency, Sutter turns to Fleury and former 30-goal left wing
Sergei Berezin, who was acquired from the Canadiens in a trade
over the summer. They join a veteran--if not deep--group of
forwards that includes center Alexei Zhamnov (22, 45), right wing
Steve Sullivan (21, 39) and left wing Eric Daze, who scored a
career-high 38 goals last year but will miss at least the first
six weeks of the season after sustaining a herniated disk late
last month.

For Chicago to get back on the winning track, the offense must
produce from the get-go and sustain itself all season, because
the defense is average and goalie Jocelyn Thibault is a question
mark. In late January, Thibault led the NHL in wins and minutes
played, but he tired badly during Chicago's post-Olympic swoon
and often gave way to backup Steve Passmore. Sutter promises to
rest the 27-year-old Thibault more this season and insists that
goal scoring, not goaltending, was the reason for last year's
collapse. To that end, Sutter is placing his trust in
Fleury. --Mark Beech

COLOR PHOTO: BILL SMITH Theo Fleury

FAST FACT

Last season the Blackhawks had only seven home losses, the fewest
by the club since the NHL expanded the schedule to 80 games in
1974-75.

INSIDER

CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY

OFFENSE 14 Fleury, Berezin should thrive under Sutter
DEFENSE 17 Dempsey helps skill, mobility; Odelein must be
physical
GOALTENDING 26 Thibault gives up soft goals when overworked
SPECIAL TEAMS 14 Strong PP, but PK needs upgrade from last year
(27th)
MANAGEMENT 14 G.M. Smith has cleaned up mess he inherited in 2000

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)